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THE LARKS

    Once the larks agreed to give up their free and happy ways.
    They did this because they’d heard a voice from loudspeakers recently installed on every corner declaring that it was necessary. They could no longer continue, the voice intoned gravely, in the blithe conviction that to be born a lark was to be born free and happy. It was time to make some tough choices, starting with freedom.
    The larks, considering themselves a fiercely independent lot and convinced their freedom was precisely what made them a symbol to all the world of the best life had to offer, might have been expected to dismiss this assertion out of hand. But the voice sounded so authoritative that a large number of them hesitated to object. Perhaps they could get along without some of their freedom, they guessed, if it meant keeping the rest. Partly free was better than not free, it could be argued. Wasn’t it just another case of quibbling over whether the glass was half-empty or half-full? 
    Still, not all the larks were convinced that half-free meant anything other than half-free. “What do we get in exchange?” they wanted to know.
    “Security,” boomed the voice from every loudspeaker.
    “Security against what?” the unconvinced larks continued.
    “That information cannot be revealed for obvious reasons, but suffice it to say, there are false larks among you.”
    “What?!”
    “All larks need to watch what they say and watch what they do. In that spirit, you are urged to join ‘Operation Suspicious Freedom’ and report unlark-like behavior in your midst wherever you find it.”
    Following this call to action, the larks began to eye each another differently, first with a questioning expression and then with one that said something else entirely. All larks were equal in appearance, but some must be secretly different if they posed a threat to the freedom of the rest. The more each lark studied its neighbor, the more it became convinced it could in fact detect something worth reporting, slight to be sure but enough to raise suspicions all the same.
    “Are you the reason I can’t feel really free anymore?” each lark’s searching look seemed to ask.
    “Why look at me?” came the responding glare. “You don’t seem like much of a true lark yourself.”
    Soon no lark felt secure, given that one lark’s freedom looked very much like another lark’s danger. And if that was the case, if freedom was hard to tell from danger, then maybe no lark should stand too much on principle or ceremony. Opinion surveys showed that roughly 50 percent of the larks were prepared to endorse secret interrogations and even torture in the search for false larks, provided of course these measures were used only on the other 50 percent and assurances were given that the interrogators and torturers could tell the difference. 
    If that’s what it took, unsavory as it might be, then the voice on the loudspeakers was doubtless right. Desperate times called for desperate measures when the free and happy life was at stake.
    Trusting that all would be well, many of the larks already felt lighter of wing.